Release Date(s)1991 (November 4, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video U.K.)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION B Blu-ray. You need an all-region Blu-ray player and display equipment compatible with PAL standard definition content to view it properly.]
Wes Craven’s body of work doesn’t always come up wine and roses. Besides the grindhouse classics The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, not to mention the enormously successful A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream films, he directed a string of movies that ranged from mediocre to awful. The People Under the Stairs is actually a film that’s trying hard to rise above the mediocrity, and succeeds, but not overtly.
The People Under the Stairs is also probably one of Craven’s more overlooked films in the grand scheme of things. In the age of new appreciations of more forgotten films and the Blu-ray re-releases that go with them, Stairs has always been one that seemed to fly under the radar. Craven’s intention was to set up themes about racism in society and the average-looking American home having more skeletons in its closets (literally, in this case).
The film begins with young Fool, a kid from the ghetto, whose mother is in need of medical attention, but unfortunately, the family is too poor to pay for it. He decides to help rob the owners of the entire neighborhood, a family that is rumored to be quite wealthy. Once they get inside, they realize that it’s a house of horrors and that they have to escape before the house’s inhabitants get their hands on them, or before a deranged mother and father duo find them and kill them.
Overall, the film carries a somewhat odd tone to it. It never plays it completely straight, although there are some very dark scenes from time to time. Twin Peaks veterans Everett McGill and Wendy Robie are completely over the top as the aforementioned “Mommy” and “Daddy”. Their performances mixed with moments of genuine child abuse make for a film that doesn’t fully embrace a concrete tone, or even genre for that matter. The suspense works great in certain scenes, such as Fool’s encounters with the family dog Prince, or when he is thrown in with the film’s namesakes. But then you have McGill running around the house in a leather outfit with a shotgun, shooting at the walls in an attempt to hunt down a basement dweller who managed to escape. It teeters on the edge of schlock at that point. Still, it’s an effective and memorable film, once that’s languished for far too long without a proper home video release.
It should be duly noted that Arrow Video’s release of The People Under the Stairs is Region B locked, meaning you need a native or region free player in order to watch it.
The high definition transfer utilized for this release is quite excellent. It’s certainly the best the film has ever looked on home video. The grain structure has been retained, with plenty of foreground and background detail on display, and some very rich textures. Colors are slightly muted (by design), but what is there, along with skin tones, feels very natural. Blacks are fairly deep but not perfect, and contrast and brightness levels are satisfying. It’s also a very clean-looking transfer that doesn’t carry burdensome digital tweaking. The audio selection comes with only a single track: English 2.0 LPCM. This uncompressed track is quite good, and I can see a future release of this state-side carrying an impressive 5.1 track if handled correctly. Dialogue is clear and precise, and both sound effects and score are mixed in well. The sound effects in particular, especially the moans and groans heard in the basement, really come off well and have plenty of aural weight to them. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
For the extras selection, there’s an audio commentary with actor Brandon Quentin Adams, moderated by Calum Waddell (I would have preferred one with Craven himself, but oh well); a set of interviews (Fear, Freud and Class Warfare with director Wes Craven, Behind Closed Doors with actress A.J. Langer, Silent But Deadly with actor Sean Whalen, and Underneath the Floorboards with writer of the Final Destination series Jeffrey Reddick); the film’s original theatrical trailer; and a 24-page insert booklet featuring an essay on the film by author Brian J. Robb and many production stills.
The People Under the Stairs comes to Blu-ray with a nice transfer and some pretty good extras. The U.S. Blu-ray release of the film was dropped as a bare bones release with nothing more than a Digital Copy of the film. Thankfully, soon all will be put right with that in the coming months, something I hope to touch upon when the time comes. Until then, Arrow Video’s Blu-ray is still a terrific release, and if you’re a fan of the film, you should definitely pick this one up as it’s worth the import.
- Tim Salmons